Easter 3: Luke 24:36-49, 1 John 3:1-7
(Side note: this was also my last Sunday at Bethlehem in Carson City, NV. Please pray for these dear saints as they call a new pastor and thank you for prayers as we move to St. Peter’s in Arlington, WI.)
Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, alleluia!
And yet, in our minds there is this little flicker of doubt that goes, “really?” How can you know for sure? Beyond a reasonable doubt, at least, or to some reasonable certainty?
How do we really know anything of the past to be true? Some people think the only way to the truth is science – hard data and tests. That’s why the phrase “studies have shown” is so compelling. It has this impressive ring of truth to it. Even if you never see the data, you assume that it’s true, because, well, “studies have shown” it to be true. All kinds of beliefs abound without much evidence. Some talk about a “leap of faith” and simply believe that something is true because we want to believe it.
To the skeptic and uninformed, this is what the Christian religion seems like to many. Many look around now and say there is no God because they cannot see Him in the same way they see the grass and the mountains and the sky. Just like you, they have never seen a guy rise from the dead.
Yet, of this thing called faith, the Christian faith, it rests in a man who is risen from the dead, and not without evidence but the clear testimony of those who were there. That’s the whole point of these 7 weeks of Easter. The body of the crucified Jesus is risen and you have life in Him. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!
We confess that we believe in the resurrection of the body. That’s the whole point of Easter. The body of Jesus is risen. And our bodies will rise on the Last Day, guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus. But how do we know it’s true? How can we know that it’s better to trust Jesus instead of Mohammed or the Buddha or the Dhali Lama or our own gut feeling?
The last chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all deal with and record the hard evidence. The open and empty tomb. The folded burial cloths. The hands and feet revealed and touched. The appearances to the eyewitnesses. And they make sure and write it down. This is how you build a court case. You present the evidence, you call in eyewitnesses. These guys are on the stand and they are simply telling you what happened, they are presenting the evidence. This man Jesus, who claimed to be the promised Messiah, who claimed to be the Son of God, was crucified and risen. Not as a spirit or figment of imagination, but bodily risen from the dead, a body the see and can touch, a body that eats broiled fish.
This is how He verifies Himself, that is makes the truth known. He fulfills all that is written in Moses and the Psalms and the Prophets, just as He Himself had said several times, He would be crucified and after 3 days He is risen!
As the risen Christ comes, the disciples are startled and afraid and doubting. They think they’re seeing ghosts. But this is no ghost or illusion. Jesus shows them His hands and His feet, those wounds by which we are healed. They mark Him forever as the Crucified One, the One who laid down His life for the sin of the world. The wounds also authenticate Him. This is the Lamb who was slain but lives.
Jesus invites them to touch Him. He is touchable. Real. Bone of our bones, flesh of our flesh. That’s why we believe our bodies will rise from the dead and we don’t just go on as “spirits” or “souls,” because Jesus rose bodily from the dead. His tomb is empty. The disciples not only saw Jesus, they touched Him. Flesh and bone.
Yet, as Jesus said would be, with one risen from the dead, some are still not convinced, still uncertain. Dead men don’t rise, ordinarily. Jesus takes a piece of broiled fish left over from dinner, and He eats it right in front of them. It’s not that He was hungry. And He wasn’t looking for a snack. More evidence. Ghosts don’t eat fish. Or really anything, for that matter. The is flesh and blood Jesus consuming a real piece of fish. Eating is a body thing.
There’s something more going on here. Something a bit “fishy,” as it were. Psalm 74 says: You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. Leviathan was the great “sea monster,” the dragon of the sea, the devil. The image is that Leviathan was being served up as an appetizer at the messianic banquet, which is why the Jews always had a course of fish on the Friday evening Sabbath meal, and why Catholics traditionally eat fish on Friday, and why Jesus multiplied bread and fish in the wilderness. Jesus’ eating fish in the resurrection is a sign that He has conquered Death and the devil who is now served up as a first course Fish as food never represents Jesus. He is the bread of life and living bread but He is not fish. Instead, He’s the One who swallows Death and devil. “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
This is what had been coming since Genesis. The promise made to Adam and Eve that One would come from the seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent, that is to defeat and kill him. That’s the promise made to Abraham to make Him into a great nation. The Word that delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt is made flesh and delivers them from bondage of sin and death. Within the entire Old Testament is more history, history that resides in the singular promise and message of the Lord: that the Christ, the Messiah, God’s anointed One, would suffer and die and the third day rise again. There were centuries, over 4000 years, before it all happened and it was written down and handed down until Christ proclaimed on Good Friday: “it is finished.”
And then Jesus did something remarkable. He opened their minds. Does that strike you as strange? They are standing there, seeing Him eat fish, they know their Bibles, they’ve been instructed personally by Jesus for three years, and yet even now, He must open their minds. It tells us that you can know all the facts and still not believe. You can know the Bible by heart and still not trust that it is for you. Faith that looks to ourselves, that trusts our reason and self-created by ourselves is lost. When faith looks to and trust Christ alone, there is life and salvation. The disciples were still unsure of what to make of all this. So Jesus comes into their midst and says to them, “peace be with you.” This is just how we talk in the resurrection. Death is defeated, the grave has no power over you, your sins are forgiven and peace with God is restored. Peace be with you.
There are those that still want this kind of physical evidence. There are those that want Jesus to give them a personal show and then they will believe. And yet, Jesus has told where He will be revealed. In the revealing of Himself proclaimed, and the same as He did for the apostle’s, in the breaking of the bread. Jesus comes just as He said He would, in the context of a meal, take eat this is my body, take drink this is my blood of the new covenant for the forgiveness of sins. And He comes and speaks the same words to you as His flesh and blood are revealed, “the peace of the Lord be with you always.” And week after week you testify to it, Amen, this is true. Here is the risen Christ come to give me peace with God, the forgiveness of sins.
You don’t look back on Jesus and see Him as a moral example or some kind of life cheerleader encouraging you in everything you do. In fact, He calls you to daily repent of your life and receive His Word. He declares you dead and buries you with Him in baptism. Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and die and on the third day rise from the dead and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem and even in Carson City.
He uses these men to proclaim it. John throughout Asia Minor, Peter to Rome, Thomas as far as India, into the African nations and throughout the known world they go. So it was for you, some testified to you about Jesus’ death and resurrection. You tell others, your children, your neighbors and friends. It’s how it works. It may not be as efficient as a large media campaign or a YouTube video with millions of views, but it is God’s way, you are witnesses and this needs to be proclaimed to the world.
Your faith is not about your gut feelings. It is about the cold hard facts. Faith is not founded on feelings but on facts. Lay out the facts. The cross and the open, empty tomb. You have them. You have the cross, you have Jesus crucified and buried, you have the tomb empty, you have the eyewitness accounts. You have the tangible ways our Lord has promised to give Himself – in His Word, in His Baptism, and in His body and blood. Your sins are forgiven and you have life and you are clothed with the power of the Holy Spirit.
This dying, confused, messed up world doesn’t need religious opinions or methods or programs. It needs just one death and one resurrection. The One with the wounds and words of eternal life. The One who swallowed up death like broiled fish. The One to whom Moses and the prophets and the psalms testify.
Christ takes His disciples by the hand and literally leads them through the Scriptures – anchoring it once again in Himself. They had to be certain of what they would proclaim since many of them would die because of it. The risen Christ is still at work proclaiming Himself to open your heart to the Scriptures. He is still at work revealing and giving Himself to you in the breaking of the bread. He does so to continue blotting out your sins – all of them – that with His presence He comes and gives you peace.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.